Farewell to my favourite Interrupting Rabbit: Emma Chamber dies aged 53 #RIP

The lovely, irrepressibly fabulous Emma Chambers (courtesy BBC)

 

One of the purest, most lovely memories of my childhood, is watching some of the classic BBC sitcoms of the time such as The Good Life, Dad’s Army and To the Manor Born with my family.

Brilliantly-written and supremely well-acted, these sitcoms were also warm, silly and comforting, an entrée into the world of characters that had their fair share of trials and troubles but who wrapped them mostly neatly in half-an-hour and whose lives were far removed from the sometimes fraught environs of my bullied existence.

They made me feel and happy.

So when The Vicar of Dibley debuted in 1994 – its three series ran until 22 January 1998 (with three sets of specials in the winters of 1999/2000, 2004/2005 and 2006/2007) – I fell in love with it immediately because, along with it being its own marvellously unique creation, it embodied the same spirit and sense of family that I loved about those classic ’70s sitcoms.

While the immeasurably-talented Dawn French was clearly front and centre as the titular vicar, the show would have been nowhere near as charming and quirky without the witty presence of Emma Chambers, who played the dim-witted but kindhearted verger of the church Alice Horton nee Tinker.

 

 

Sadly Emma Chambers, who gave us not just Alice, but Honey Thacker (Notting Hill) and a slew of other memorable comedic roles died on 24 February of “natural causes”, according to her agent John Grant.

Alice Tinker: Vicar?
Geraldine Granger: Mm-hm?
Alice Tinker: What you looking forward to more than anything else at Christmas this year?
Geraldine Granger: Well, my highlights are going to be Jurassic Park and the Queen’s speech, written this year by Ruby Wax, I believe. And what about you?
Alice Tinker: I’m totally excited about your first Christmas sermon; it, it’s just going to be an experience I’ll never forget.
Geraldine Granger: Alice, my *first* Christmas sermon was last Christmas.
Alice Tinker: Oh, yeah, I forgot.

The joy of Chambers as an actress, who won a British Comedy Award in 1998 for her performance as the much put-upon Alice who knew very little of how the world actually worked but muddled through anyway, was how real and earthy she made her roles.

Yes, she was often the naive, quirky girl who was just that little bit of “normal”, who never quite got the Vicar’s jokes, and who thought she gave birth to the son of God as Alice because her name rhymed with “chalice”, but she was also very real, very down-to-earth and intensely relatable in all the roles.

In characters like Alice and Honey, you often saw yourself, all the things you don’t know, all the social situations you didn’t handle as masterfully as you wanted, all the awkward moments you failed to escape, but it was comforting to see someone in those positions and have it all work out for them anyway.

 

 

That was Chambers real gift as an actress – she could be idiosyncratically loopy, and what a joy that was to watch, but also she could be so beautifully down-to-earth and heartfelt, and there were some truly touching moments in The Vicar of Dibley where it was Alice who was the emotional lynchpin of the show, providing comfort to Dawn French’s Geraldine when no one else could.

Chambers was able to invest all her characters with this vulnerability, the kind we all have but choose to ignore or don’t talk about it.

It was this mix of goofy charm and emotional realism that made her truly stand out, and by all accounts, she was as lovely as a person as she was in character as these tweets from Dawn French, Emma Freud and Hugh Grant touchingly attest.

 

 

 

 

The loss of someone this young and close in age to you is always confronting, but what strikes me most stridently right now, far beyond the loss of Chambers’ comic brilliance to come, is how awful it must be to lose someone this lovely and precious to you.

We actors of course purely through the prism of their roles, and that’s all well and good because, stalking aside (not an advisable pursuit) there’s no other way to know them; but for her husband of 27 years Ian Dunn, her family and her friends, today much be one of the most terrible of their lives.

When my dad died I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to exist in a world without him, and so while I grieve the loss of this singular talent, my thoughts and prayers are with everyone who love Emma Chambers, who knew the woman behind Alice and Honey, and who no doubt they had a great many more years to spend with her.

#RIP Emma Chambers – you provide so much joy to so many and you will be deeply, sorely, profoundly missed.

 

Movie review: Dating My Mother

(image courtesy DatingMyMother.com)

 

It would be nice to think that navigating your way through the twists and turns of life, with all its contrary elements, would get easier as you get older.

But as mother and son, widow Joan (Kathryn Erbe) and Danny (Patrick Reilly), discover in Mike Roma’s feature debut, Dating My Mother, that idea is so much wishful thinking, a product of believing that age begets wisdom and insight while banishing the quicksand-like inertia of youth where hopes and dreams are many but a sense of how to successfully execute them proves all too frustratingly elusive.

Granted Joan, still grieving the loss her husband some years earlier and taking the first tentative steps back into serious dating, is handling things better than her son who, recently graduated from college, is trying unsuccessfully to get a job as a writer on a TV show, try his hand at filmmaking and hopefully land the man of his dreams.

But for all her outward success – nice house, career as a hairstylist and the nascent interest of “nice” (the word is bandied around a lot, both pejoratively and positively) man Chester (James Le Gros) – actual happiness and a sense of completion elude her, making her and her often acerbic son two somewhat adrift peas in an existential pod.

Still, for all their sameness in certain respects, it’s Danny, perpetually unhappy with life and not afraid to say so, who is flailing the most, his refusal to actively the situation he finds himself in, meeting with understanding and annoyance at the hands of Joan, depending on how well she is travelling along.

Dating My Mother obviously is aiming to explore the closeness and chasms in mother-son relationships, and Joan and Danny’s one in particular, and while it somewhat succeeds in its endeavour, it is fails badly to prosecute on its premise, a mainstay of gay cinema where gay guys are often joined at the hip with their mums.

 

(image via IndieWire)

 

The problem lies mainly with Mike Roma’s inert script and fairly pedestrian directing.

While there are some cute elements to the film – having the various dysfunctional elements and personalities of online dating play out in real life for Danny to react to is a nice touch – and Reilly and Erbe prosecute their roles well, Dating My Mother never really gains any momentum nor emotional accessability.

A great deal of the film’s failings in the latter respect stem from Danny’s almost total unlikeability as a protagonisy.

Yes, we get that he’s adrift, lost and uncertain, and that can play havoc with anyone’s emotional groundedness and stability, but it manifests itself more often than not as acidic, condescending, too-cool-for-school dismissiveness, an unyielding, unrelenting tide of negativity that achieves its aim of establishing as a lost soul before massively overshooting and turning him into the sort of person you would countries to avoid.

As the film progresses, there are some moments that successfully peer below his abrasive persona – when he meets the lovely Richard (Paul Iacono), a number of sweet heartfelt chats with his mum and vulnerability when he is rejected by vapid would-be suitor after vapid would-be suitor – but these are no enough to elevate his character to the point where we care enough about what happens to him.

Partner this with a script that never really raises the stakes to anything approaching meaningful and an ending that is happily trite and a little bit too late in reaching an epiphany for both of its main characters, and you’re left with a strangely lifeless story that ticks all the boxes in paper but never really does much else with them.

So too Kathy Najimy who as Joan’s sassy best friend Lisa, who is both the wild reckless soul of the trio and its sage insightful voice, is criminally wasted, never really given the chance to let loose and inject some much-needed verve into the flat narrative.

 

(image via IMDb)

 

It’s easy to see where Mike Roma wanted to take the film, all too easy in fact with the storyline a little too beholding to many gay and indie movie tropes, and if it had gone there then Dating My Mother might have been an altogether different undertaking all together.

Acknowledging how difficult life is to get right at all, or at least for a sufficiently pleasing amount of time, isn’t enough although at least in that sense, audiences do have some point of connectivity with these characters.

There needs to be some sense that things aren’t just pottering along to a predictable end, but Dating My Mother never moves beyond this, less a slice-of-life dramedy than an insipid stringing in scenes that often in and of themselves have some impact and meaning but which collectively never end up as some of meaningful collective whole.

It’s a pity really because there are some fine performances begging for meatier realisation, hampered by a script that knows what it wants to say but doesn’t really over-exert itself saying them.

It’s by no means a disaster of a film, the kind of cinematic experience that you rue over and over again with the cold hard certainty you will never get that time back, but it’s never really engaging, leaving you curiously unmoved by the end of what should have been some fairly serious, and are again on paper, life moments.

Joan and Danny are far too close for comfort in many respects, and Danny is just plain unlikeable for much of the running time, and coupled with undeveloped secondary characters such as Danny’s straight crush Khris (Michael Rosen) and his clubbing friend with the voice only dogs can hear Tanya (Sideara St. Claire), and a sense that there’s much to say but no real sense of how to say it, and you have a film that could have been so much more, but which never really realises its potential, much like much of Danny’s post-college life.

 

Disney characters get their Avengers on and my, if it isn’t fun to behold!

(image via YouTube (c) SJPLAY)

 

Sorry superhero fanatics out there but I am not one of you, much as I like much of the storytelling that happens in that space.

I often enjoy many of the movies but I am not, by any stretch, any kind of super fan.

What I do love, and with a passion, are Pixar films which have delighted with their wit, wisdom and superlative visual wonder since Toy Story hit screens back in 1995.

So the fact that YouTube creator SJPLAY have seen fit, and what a stroke of inspiration it was, to combine Pixar and Marvel fills me with great delight, as well investing the Avengers: Infinity War trailer with all kinds of animated goodness.

It’s a beautiful piece of work, the perfect combination of blockbuster and cinematic intimacy, with added Mr and Mrs Potatohead.

For more go to Digital Spy.

 

Book review: Everfair by Nisi Shawl

(image courtesy Pan Macmillan Australia)

 

Alternate histories are an interesting fiction genre.

Emboldened by the endless openendedness of “What if?”, they surge forward along an entirely new part of the time/space continuum, merrily playing Sliding Doors with history, asking us to imagine how different the world would be if one crucial aspect at one pivotal moment had been just a little bit different.

It’s a fascinating exercise, one that shines a revealing light on history, humanity and society at a particular point in time, and Nisi Shawl, known for her fantasy and sci-fi short stories, has taken the genre with all its endless possibilities and run with it, giving us in the process the mostly sublime delights of Everfair.

Running from the late nineteenth century into the twentieth century just past the cessation of World War One, Everfair wonders, in its all steampunk glory, what the history of colonialism in Africa might have been if someone, or more precisely, a dedicated group of someones, had dared to stand up to the ceaseless tide of repression, death and exploitation that marked the age.

Particularly what might have happened to Congo, the fecund lush centre of Africa that at the time of the novel’s opening is in the grip of the brutal greed and madness of King Leopold II who perpetrated what came to be known by contemporaries of the time as the “Congo Horrors”, massacring millions in pursuit of purely financial gain.

This was no project of the Belgian state; rather Leopold’s stake in the Congo was private, a manifestly capital undertaking that primarily sought to exploit the regions richness in resources such as rubber which was harvested wild at the expense of countless millions of lives.

“The reverend lieutenant explained his program and the fire flickered, died to embers. Letter-writing and petitions to Parliament was what he asked of them. A movement along the lines of Abolitionism. Which had been well and good in its time.
But Jackie had a better idea.” (P.30)

As you might expect with a project with no judicial oversight and little to no accountability, abuses were rife, with entire villages razed to the ground by a paramilitary army, the Force Publique, should anyone so much as stand in the way of Leopold II’s rapacious exploitation of land that had, for all intents and purposes been stolen from its people, regardless of the legal niceties employed to paper over the wholly unpalatable reality.

Everfair steps into the chamber of horrors, musing with robust historical accuracy and a penetrating on the colonial politics and culture of the time, what might have happened if a group of somewhat more enlightened people – Shawl is careful not to turn these people into saints, who are riven with their own shortcomings and failings – including adherents of the Fabian Society in England (it gave rise to the Labour Party) and African-American missionaries had taken control of much of this land and stood against the evil of Leopold II’s ugly hold on the region.

 

Nisi Shawl (image courtesy UAH)

 

As an exploration of a “What if?” scenario, Everfair is peerless, taking a deep dive into what the setting up of a state dedicated to equality, fair labour laws, democracy and freedom might have looked like.

With steampunk sensibilities fully engaged, the novel documents the growth and then decline of Everfair over a period spanning 30 years (1889-1919), eschewing the genre’s usual predilection for wrapping this period in a cosy glow of hagiography-tinged nostalgia and challenging assumptions of what noble and enlightened actually looks like on the ground, especially to the indigenous people led by King Mwenda and Queen Josina, who initially cooperate with the well-meaning interlopers before demanding, quite rightly, that their sovereignty be heeded for once.

It’s this clash of idealism and reality that proves most fascinating.

As people like Fabian Society founders Jackie Owen and Daisy Albin, playwright Matty Jamison, French nurse Lisette Toutournier, Macao escaper labourer Tink and American missionary Martha Hunter surge into the region, determined from entirely different vantage points, to stop Leopold’s craven brutality in its track and establish a just and free society, we witness just how hard it is to create something perfect when the people seeking to do the creating are as flawed as the rest of us.

Well-meaning and idealistic yes, but flawed and as each time-stamped chapter races forward, we are taken on a wholly unique look at the history of colonialism where its excesses are blunted, its abuses stymied and progress, both technological and societal, is allowed a free hand.

“The king hadn’t anticipated that. Who was there to oppose him?
The Europeans and Americans were distracted by their plague … Everfair’s whites and Christians would have fought in protest of their exile, but lacking foreign support, they shouldn’t have any choice in the matter–if General Wilson hadn’t so surprisingly taken up the Christians’ cause.” (P. 348)

It’s impressive stuff, and Shawl does a masterful job of worldbuilding, of conjuring up what-ifs, and maybes from the imaginative ether and given them richness and vitality and truth.

The only flaw in this wholly unique perspective is the fact that so much time and effort is given to exploring what might have happened, both good and bad, flawed and not, and the consequences of these actions, that the characters get a little lost in the mix.

It’s a pity that we don’t spend more time with them because they are a fascinatingly diverse bunch (sexually, religiously, idealistically), people who aim for the stars and land far closer to earth but who at least give the idea of putting flesh on their noble conjecturing a worthwhile shot.

Everfair is very much an ideas-driven narrative rather than character-driven, although we are given some insight into the private lives of these people, with a result that while the journey we are taken is engrossing, thought-provoking and alive with alternate possibilities, it often fails to connect emotionally.

On balance though, Everfair is gorgeously rich in ideas, history, humanity and the delicious prospect of what might happen if only the better angels of our nature were given a more prominent seat at the table, a luxuriously in-depth, compelling, enlightened and beautifully written take on a dark chapter in colonial history that could have played out so much differently.

 

 

Firefly takes to the galactic skies again! In book form at least …

(image courtesy 20th Television)

 

Ah Firefly, I still mourn your prematurely-ended run, your brief 13-episode run of intra-galactic adventure and derringdo flickering out and foundering far before any of us were ready for it.

Thankfully while TV may be done, with you, the rest of the pop culture-o-sphere is not, with a movie (Serenity), countless comic books, and an online game with the original cast reprising their roles, ensuring that they won’t take the sky from you, or the sense of this wonderful show being alive and very much with us.

Adding to this list of ghosts of Firefly past and present, there are now plans afoot for series of books, which as Bleeding Cool points out, may underwhelm some fans who want a TV show revival and nothing else …

“Okay, look, yes, a series of books isn’t as good as good as purchasing the TV rights with a crowdfunding campaign, gifting them to Nathan Fillion, and getting the cast back together for a long-awaited second season …”

 

An earlier Firefly book incarnation (image (c) Joey Spiotto)

 

But, and yes Bleeding Cool also threw in a helpful “but” before sentence end, it’s much better than nothing and gives us a chance, particularly those of us for whom books are living, breathing entities unto themselves, to subsume ourselves in imaginative adventures of the mind, full of narrative splendour and possibility.

It’s an especially enticing prospect when Firefly creator, Joss Whedon, is overseeing the books which will all be part of official franchise canon.

And indeed, the book synopses, published on Entertainment Weekly show we’re in for some great adventuring …

Firefly: Big Damn Hero by Nancy Holder (Oct. 2018)
Captain Malcolm Reynolds finds himself in a dangerous situation after being kidnapped by a bunch of embittered veteran Browncoats.

Firefly: The Magnificent Nine by James Lovegrove (March 2019)
Jayne receives a distress call from his ex Temperance McCloud that leads the Serenity crew to danger on a desert moon.

Firefly: Generations by Tim Lebbon (Oct. 2019)
The discovery of the location of one of the legendary Ark ships that brought humans from Earth to the ’Verse promises staggering salvage potential, but at what cost? River Tam thinks she might know …

Now all we have to do is be patient and wait … hmmm, are they published yet? … *waiting* … now? Sigh …

Movie review: Lady Bird

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

Figuring out life is challenging for the best of us, and if we’re really honest with ourselves, we can often find ourselves defeated in the attempt.

But that comes much later (or if you’re lucky not at all), and when you’re young like Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), there is still an expectation that you will be successful in crafting exactly the kind of life you envisage.

It’s certainly how the earnestly optimistic student approaches her life in Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut Lady Bird, the title taken from the name Christine has chosen for herself and which she insists everyone use, including her mum and dad, Marion and Larry (Laurie Metcalf and Tracy Letts respectively) and the staff and students at the Catholic school she attends on a scholarship.

At first glance, this act of defiant self-defining seems like a small gesture and is often dismissed as such by the adults around her; but for Lady Bird, it’s a powerful statement of her individuality and sense of self, part of her aspirational attempts to move beyond the small world, as she sees it, of her life in Sacramento, California.

These aspirations are hampered to a considerable degree by the parlous financial state of Lady Bird’s family who have failed, despite endless hard work and tenacity, to seize their small slice of the American Dream.

Lady Bird’s brother Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues) and his girlfriend Shelly (Marielle Scott) are living at home and working in a supermarket, despite degrees from UC Berkeley, her father stands to lose his job at any time, and and her mother is working double shifts as a nurse.

They’re not even close to living the dream, and to some extent, Lady Bird internally blames that on lack of effort, believing that you can do what you like, such as get into East Coast Ivy Colleges, if you simply try hard enough.

It’s not that simple of course, as her mum makes it clear in one particularly fractious scene where she pointedly outlines to her daughter just how far she is where she thought she’d be in life.

 

 

But despite the darker, rain-less side of the American Dream being lived out around her all day every day, save for when she is at school in a tonier part of town which is talked about in hushed tones of envy and longing by Lady Bird and best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein, who is absolutely superb in the role), she holds fast to the idea that anything is possible.

Her expression of her optimistic tenacity often comes across as hard-nosed arrogance and rudeness, especially in the midst of her love/hate/love relationship with her equally-determined mother – they clash, notes her father, precisely because they are so similar – but Gerwig, who wrote the script and set it in her hometown, and Ronan’s sparkling performance, invest the titular character with thoroughly relatable every-personness that makes the film inherently affecting and deeply accessible.

Lady Bird is as bullish and pushy as she is because she knows how much opposes her dreams of getting to somewhere “more cultured” like the East Coast and yet she is also gloriously naive about how hard it is to realise your “best self” – yes she uses this term at one point, during one of the many passive-aggressive mother-daughter scenes in the film – and in fact, the best version of her life.

Watching her grapple with this as she joins a theatre group at school with Julie, meets Danny (Lucas Hedges), with whom she falls in love ’til some uncomfortable secrets emerge, and then moves onto precocious rich kid Kyle (Timothée Chalamet) and befriends popular girl Jenna (Odeya Rush), is illuminating because you see in Lady Bird the same journey we all go on.

That trip from thinking everything is ours to grab when we want it on our terms to realising there are multiple variables at work that will make that hard, though not impossible to achieve, is laid in quiet, nuanced glory, with Lady Bird learning that people are not always who you assume them to be.

 

 

Lady Bird is replete with a great many life lessons but refreshingly, despite the film taking place in her last year in high school, they do not take place through the usual high school movie narrative prism.

Nor are they great melodramatic road to Damascus moments that reek of manipulative grandstanding that telegraphs great epiphanies and messages from a great height or distance.

Lady Bird, which is not as quirky as the trailer suggests but is very real and grounded and contemplatively thoughtful, not to mention witty with delicious comic timing punctuating the tenser, darker moments, is content to quietly tell its story, to let its protagonist stumble, rise and fall back again and have her moments of life-defining realisations occur in small, out of the way scenes that nevertheless carry great import.

Take the scene towards the end of the film when Lady Bird realises her new cool friends, all affected ennui and faux philosophical earnestness, are everything she is not, rather than everything she think she wants, and she goes back to Julie, begs for her forgiveness and off to the prom where the two best friends reestablish a bond that is never really broken.

The scene, which is funny, sad and just a little defiant, is emblematic of the film as a whole which does an expansively rich and insightfully-touching job of communicating how knowing what you want and getting it, especially at the start of your life where you’re still appropriating the social awareness building blocks needed to make it happen, can feel like they’re separated by an unbridgeable chasm.

It is, of course, navigable as Lady Bird begins to discover post-high school, a little chastened but still hopeful, but comes with all kinds of compromises good and bad, and a growing sense that things can be a very good thing indeed, just not what you expect them to be when you first set out on this grand adventure called life.

 

 

Greta Gerwig’s ‘Lady Bird’ is a Smart, Sensitive Coming-Of-Age Story

Now this is music #103: Car Seat Headrest, Young Fathers, Ariel Beesley, Black Light White Light, Club 8

 

Life is too short, way too short, to waste it on artists and songs that say nothing of any consequence.

That’s not say that every song you listen should be a philosophical treatise set to music – having some mindless, go-with-the-groove fun can be good for the soul – but immersing yourself in pop music that doesn’t just sound amazing but speaks something to the great mystery of life too adds to the quality of your life.

These five impressively-diverse artists do just that, bringing forth richness both musically and lyrically, the perfect combination of music and thought that will please anyone who wants their life soundtrack to be as substantial as it is hook-laden.

 

“Nervous Young Inhumans” by Car Seat Headrest

 

Car Seat Headrest (image courtesy official Car Seat Headrest Facebook)

 

It’s all in the name they say, and if that’s true and it often appears to be, then Car Seat Headrest have the whole memorable naming gig tied up.

Hailing from Leesburg Virginia back in the day and now happily ensconsed in the vibrant music scane of Seattle, Washington, Car Seat Headrest are not defined by their catchy name alone.

Songs like “Nervous Young Inhumans” which was originally released back in 2011 via Bandcamp and has now been refurbished and reborn for a label-reissue of Twin Fantasy, of which the artist behind the group (which comprises Will Toledo; Ethan Ives; Andrew Katz; Seth Dalby) Will Toledo had this to say:

“[Twin Fantasy] was never a finished work … it wasn’t until last year that I figured out how to finish it.”  (Exclaim)

In its new guise, the song is a driving jangling piece of catchy guitar-infused synth pop that echoes with Toledo’s idiosyncratically resonant voice, proof that while necessity is oft spoke as the mother on invention, reinvention can happen just because, gifting us music we know and love in a whole otehr pleasing form.

 

 

“In My View” By Young Fathers

 

Young Fathers (image courtesy official Young Fathers Facebook page)

 

As a band devoted to defying expectations and calling out assumptions and flawed perception, Young Fathers, a biracial rap group (Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole, ‘G’ Hastings) from Edinburgh have infused their wholly unique music with that same lyrical sensibility.

It’s most apparent on “In My View”, the second single from upcoming album Cocoa Sugar, which, as Pitchfork explains, calls out perceptions that aren’t quite right:

“Downtempo and monochromatic, the song is a hybrid, half-sung and half-spoken, as disembodied voices creak and echo. ‘In my view/Nothing’s ever given away/I believe/To advance then you must pay,’ Alloysious Massaquoi sings as drums scutter beneath whirring synth notes. ‘I wanna be king until I am/A man is just a man, I understand,’ ‘G’ Hastings adds. An overarching theme comes into focus: Everything isn’t what it’s made out to be.”

While it’s true “In My View” is not the most uptempo of tracks, it is richly-immersive, a beautiful tripping piece of music that challenges, and makes you think, making this piece of catchy pop one of those rare gems that pleases both mind and soul.

 

 

“Slower Than Usual” by Ariel Beesley

 

Ariel Beesley (image courtesy official Ariel Beesley Facebook page)

 

Singer/vocalist Ariel Beesley, who hails from the San Fernando Valley, California, is one those rare souls that excels at more than one thing.

A musician before she was a model, Ariel grew up with a eclectically-mixed palette that ranged from Frank Sinatra to The Cure, and began playing the guitar when she was 14, a precursor to writing her own songs.

All that perternatural ability has found a home in songs like “Slower Than Usual” that draw on a giddy driving ’80s feel that suggests The Go-Gos and makes excellent use of her dusky, evocative vocals that drip with laid-back passion and energy.

It’s one of those songs that sounds like something you’ve heard before and then doesn’t, marking her as someone who take in an influence, play with it and make it her owbn to consistently winning effect.

 

 

“Teenage Dream” by Black Light White Light

 

Black Light White Light (Image courtesy official Black Light White Light Facebook page)

 

A psych rock band based in Malmö, Sweden, which once played host to Eurovision, Black Lighht White Light, founded by Danish-born Martin Ejlertsen who works with a number of friends to create the band’s sound which they describe, rather winningly on their Facebook page as “catchy melodies swirled in fuzzy guitars, distorted tremolo, chiming reverb, groovy bass lines and pounding beats in a Spectorish 60s universe with a modern Scandinavian twist.”

Now who could resist that kind of utterly distinct musical concoction?

Very few people and tracks like “Teenage Dream” keep capturing peoples’ attention, channelling all kinds of delicious sounds as beautifully described by Nordic Music Review:

“‘Teenage Dream’ is simple a belting track, led by a bold melodic keyboard driven theme, supported by fuzzy guitars, and the whole track is dripping with swirling psychedelia, but through it all Martin Ejlertsen’s vocals offer a soft melancholy quality that makes it really listenable. There are so many great influences from music across the last 50 years, but it still works perfectly today.”

The song somehow manages to be both energetic and ethereal all at once, a richly-rewarding piece of pop that dances and weaves around you, immerses you in such a way that remaining deep with its appealing folds for as long as possible comes across as a thoroughly compelling idea every time you listen to it.

 

 

“Fire” by Club 8

 

Club 8 (image courtesy official Club 8 Facebook page)

 

While the artwork might suggest meditative moments in a medieval chruch somewhere, “Fire” by Swedish electro-pop duo, Club 8 (Karolina Komstedt, Poprace and Johan Angergård, Acid House Kings, Poprace) dares to take you somewhere entirely different.

Motoring along in a chilled midtempo vibe, the song, suffused by Karolina’s magically-removed voice that glides through the minor key-buffed melody with silken-smooth beauty, is one those engagingly lo-fi efforts that has presence despite it laidback dynamic.

It’s all very subtle and elegant and gorgeously outside the pellmell of most electronica, a welcome respite that bristles with emotionally-evocative vibrancy and an assuring sense of endless chilled perfection.

If you’re looking for music that will consume and calm you all at once, then Club 8 have the goods, a constantly-reinventive duo who understands you can be powerful while understated, dazzling while kicking back from the madding crowd.

 

 


NOW THIS IS MUSIC EXTRA EXTRA!

 

Kurtis Jackson has created the most relaxing short film ever with footage of his friend Alex snowboarding down a snow-covered forested hill to the elegant beauty of Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune”. It is beautiful and you will fall into a reverie … oh yes, you will(Laughing Squid)

 

 

URLs

The Matinee ’18 January 16th

“Danger, Will Robinson”: Jupiter 2 set to get Lost in Space all over again

(image courtesy Netflix)

 

SNAPSHOT
Lost in Space is a Netflix Original dramatic and modern reimagining of the classic 1960’s science fiction series. Set 30 years in the future, colonization in space is now a reality, and the Robinson family is among those tested and selected to make a new life for themselves in a better world. But when the new colonists find themselves abruptly torn off course en route to their new home they must forge new alliances and work together to survive in a dangerous alien environment, light-years from their original destination.

Stranded along with the Robinsons are two outsiders who find themselves thrown together by circumstance and a mutual knack for deception. The unsettlingly charismatic Dr. Smith (Parker Posey) is a master manipulator with an inscrutable end game. And the roguish, but inadvertently charming Don West (Ignacio Serricchio) is a highly-skilled, blue collar contractor, who had no intention of joining the colony, let alone crash landing on a lost planet. (synopsis via Coming Soon)

One of the great constants of my life has been a willingness to eschew the mire of unthinking nostalgia and to be open to someone taking a property I grew up with and reimagining and reinventing it.

Sometimes this creatively adventuresome attitude pays substantial dividends – think Battlestar Galactica, the DC Comics take on classic Hanna-Barbera characters – and sometimes it most spectacularly does not – begone from my presence forever CHiPs and Bewitched films – but on balance it’s fun to see where modern sensibilities and storytelling nous can take something.

 

 

Lost in Space is the next up for some clever reinterpretation, and while this isn’t the first time someone has attempted this (1998’s movie is not as bad as some say but it’s not brilliant either), it’s the first time it’s been attempted on TV which is, of course, where Irwin Allen’s spacefaring creation got its start.

Premiering 13 April, the new Lost in Space retains the same characters, and if you watch the trailer right to the end, at least one of the same catchphrases (though very creepily interpreted) but looks to have its narrative gaze quite precisely on the current catastrophic dangers facing the planet, dangers that in the future could force us, should we survive that long, to launch into the stars seeking long-term salvation.

The teaser trailer is crisp, taut and pretty damn terrific and augurs well for the series to come.

A series, it must be said, that needs to invest in a damn good GPS tracking system (or not, I guess, if they want that whole lost premise thing to stick) …

Lost in Space goes way off course on Netflix on 13 April.

Comics review: The Snagglepuss Chronicles (issues 1 & 2)

(image courtesy DC Comics)

 

When news first emerged that DC Comics were going to re-interpret a sizable array of Hanna-Barbera’s most iconic stars such as The Flintstones and Scooby Doo and give them a modern makeover, there some doubt expressed that this could be achieved with any sort of creative substance.

After all, delightful though they were to watch in cartoon series of old, and though they had many an entertaining quality, pretty much every single character was reasonably cardboard cutout-ish, possessed of a few key attributes but not much in the way of backstory or meaningful insight.

But as these new reinterpretations demonstrated, it is possible to bring the slapstick jokesters of old and give them a serious new sheen and even say something worthwhile and socially aware, and The Snagglepuss Chronicles are Exhibit A for how brilliantly well this has been done. (To be fair The Flintstones and Scooby Doo also have some serious Exhibit A-cred going on.)

In this brave new Snagglepuss world, there is far less camp tomfoolery and no “Exit Stage Left!” to speak of, and a whole lot of serious introspection about the way society demands everyone fit into the same narrow mold, and how if they fail to do so, all hell can break loose upon their heads.

In The Snagglepuss Chronicles, the character once voiced by the great Daws Butler to deliciously flamboyantly rambunctious effect, is a much-vaunted 1950s playwright, a southern Gothic doyen of the creative arts who dresses like a dapper Southern gentleman (he hails from rural Mississippi) whose play “My Heart Is a Kennel of Thieves”  is wrapping up a famously long-run on Broadway, is friends with Dorothy Parker, she of the Alonquin Table and who is, marriage to Lila Lion to the contrary, secretly gay and in love with the Cuban exile Pablo.

His is a life simultaneously lived in the glare of public adoration and in the shadows, a doting husband to stage actress Lila to keep the social gatekeepers happy and morally assuaged, and a caring boyfriend who meets his true partner at Stonewall in The Village in New York and wherever prying eyes aren’t lurking.

It’s a fraught existence in some respects but Snagglepuss has long ago made his peace with it; well as much peace as you can make with a dual existence that never allows you to lay down your guard.

How much of a balancing act this double-life is is brought home to Snagglepuss when his Southern novelist friend Huckleberry Hound arrives in town – against all expectations writer Mark Russell weaves in Huckleberry, Squiddly Diddly and Augie Doggie to impressive effect – recounting how he has been found to leave his marriage, child and entire life behind when his wife discovered his relationship with another man.

This revelation, which seems to do little to unsettle Snagglepuss’s cheeky, highly-literate bravado, throws the dilemma many men in 1950s America faced – be true to themselves and be ruined or flit between the light and shadows and hope notices you moving between the two.

The consequences as Huckleberry Hound demonstrates, and which Russell depicts with great sensitivity and insight, can be near cataclysmic, the end of all things as society, or that section of it that polices morality for dubious reasons, exacts its price for unacceptable transgressions.

 

(image courtesy DC Comics)

 

The greater threat, and yes hard as it is to believe, there is a deadlier force at work, comes from the House Committee on Un-American Activities, Senator Joe McCarthy’s oppressively virulent crusade to keep America safe from the undemocratic tyranny of the much-ballyhooed communist hordes.

Of course, the supreme irony is that a crusade designed to supposedly protect democracy actually ended up running cruel and merciless roughshod over it, with many innocent people dragged through the personal and professional mud on some sort of demented crusade.

Snagglepuss’s friend, playwright Lillian Hellman is one such person, who describes her treatment this way in a conversation post-appearance with Snagglepuss:

“Were they terribly rough on you, dear?”
“No, they were just shabby. Shabby little men in a shabby little room. They just want to make you shabby too.”

That conversation out on the terrace, cigarettes in hand, beautifully typifies Russell’s elegant style, which never comes close to being manipulatively polemic or rantingly clumsy.

Rather he allows his characters to simply live their lives, with their opponents and oppressors effectively hanging themselves on their own petards with their own actions and words.

It’s a masterful piece of storytelling that, coupled with exquisitely rich, colourful and evocative art by Mike Feehan, delivers up a stinging rebuke to the small minds and cold, judgmental hearts who position themselves as the arbiters of morality, ethics and human decency.

That they are obviously nothing of the sort becomes graphically clear in the first two sublime-good and confrontingly-nuanced issues of The Snagglepuss Chronicles with the decency and authenticity of the likes of the titular protagonist and a wide array of friends such as Huckleberry Hound, standing in stark contrast to the base shabbiness of McCarthy and his tawdry ilk.

 

(image courtesy DC Comics)

 

Snaggelpuss, of course, wants nothing to do with Gigi Allen, Special Counsel to the House Committee on Un-American Activities when she calls him, at the Alonquin Table no less, to act as a propaganda mouthpiece for McCarthy’s attempts to remake America in his blighted, small “s” style.

He nails it with his pithy, take-down of what it is Allen and her accomplices in democracy-sabotaging are attempting to do:

“I think what you want is not my help but my capitulation.

“I think you don’t give two feathers about how some playwright from Mississippi might affect the outcome of World War Three. You’re not enlisting my help against the Soviets. You’re enlisting the Soviets to help you control what we say and do.

You are asking me for my pen and that I cannot give … it’s all I have.”

With that one speech, which occurs close the end of issue #2 and as you might expects ends nothing, Russell nails his and Snagglepuss’s colours firmly to the mast, setting up some thrilling and no doubt potently incisive issues ahead.

  • Think there might be some thematic corollaries between the re-imagined Snagglepuss and our troubled modern reality? You would be right and this video does a beautiful job of explaining it …

 

Take down Mechno-Hive! Join the fight with The Axiom Chronicles

(image via Laughing Squid (c) Edison Creative)

 

SNAPSHOT
On a dystopian planet in the far reaches of the cosmos, an evil sentient mechanical entity known as the Mechno-Hive has enslaved the organic races as their labor force. By controlling an ancient and mysterious crystaline power source known as the Axiom, they exert their tyrannical will on the entire planet.

The fate and future of the planet, and it’s occupants lies in the hands of a young hero named Rake. It falls to Rake to learn to control the ultimate power of the Axiom for good, and bring peace to the world he calls home. (synopsis via Kickstarter)

It really doesn’t matter who you are, there’s something intensely appealing, almost magically inspiring about underdogs taking on dictatiorial rulers (well, unless you’re a monster tyrant occupying a position of unassailable power; then maybe not so much).

Star Wars made merry use, and still does, of the idea, as have countless other books, movies and TV shows, and now The Axiom Chronicles is joining the rebellious fray in all its transportive animated glory.

 

(image courtesy Edison Creative)

 

Theirs is an epic, against-the-odds, one its creators, Edison Creative will inspire you enough to join their Kickstarter campaign which is seeking funds to complete production on this imaginative sci-fi Western.

The Axiom Chronicles, the brainchild of Dillon Wheelock, is a passion project for the busy design studio based in Omaha, Nebraska, and so they need our help to make it a reality.

One glimpse of that trailer and you can’t help but play a part – the animation is sensational, the storyline gripping and the emotional impact off the scale.

Go join The Axiom Chronicles and keep the rebellion, and some pretty impressive creativity, alive.

The Axiom Chronicles Kickstarter closes 5am AEDT AU time, 2 March 2018.